The Birchbark House by daxton jensen


In "The Birchbark House" by Louise Erdrich a young native american girl named Omakayas lives on an island off the coast of one of the great lakes. This story describes her families trials through each of the four seasons and how they resolve the many other problems that arise. Omakayas has to rely on her two younger brothers, older sister, parents and grandmother for support in the midst of all of their growing list of problems. She learns about the hardships and loss that she will experience in her life and in the end comes of age by acting more mature and using the harsh times that she endured through as lessons for her future. There are a variety of social, geographical, cultural, and historical opportunities that form throughout the text and have affect the plot in a few ways.

Social Context

Lewis and Clark's trail that inspired settlement in the west.

In the story, Omakayas and her family are forced to move from their Birchbark house in the wilderness back into the main town because of white settlers moving onto their part of the island. Conflict continues to arise as the settlers move closer and closer and because of racial segregation that occurred during this time. There is definitely inequality as the white settlers are stealing the Native Americans land on the island. The whites and white settlers are definitely in a higher class and are treated with greater respect because of the way that they can just take the land from the Native American tribes. The Native Americans are in the minority because this was happening right before the civil war, so segregation and mistreatment of other cultures was still a huge problem.

Historical Context

A Birchbark House that many Native Americans would live in.

In “The Birchbark House” by Louise Erdrich the historical context is very interesting because this is occurring before the civil war so the mistreatment of these Native Americans was not considered a negative thing. The main character, Omakayas, is just a child and is unaware of the horrors of mistreatment of other cultures, and slavery that raged on throughout the rest of the U.S. Her parent however understood that this was a large problem and tried to keep their family out of it by migrating to new places whenever the white settlers advanced toward their settlement. A main event that occurs in the story is when a white man comes to the natives seeking help, but after living with multiple families in multiple homes, he dies of small pox. The Native Americans had never been exposed to the new diseases that the white men had brought over from England. So after his death when small pox spread like wildfire from house to house many lives were lost because of their having never been introduced to the disease before in their lives or understanding the process of proper medication and inoculation.

Geographical Context

Lake Superior

In the book, the events are occurring on a small island in Minnesota off the coast of one of the great lakes. The natives know the island as Moningwanaykaning or Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker. Omakayas has lived there all of her life and her and her family live in a Birchbark house on the beach. Because of her living in the west, and this being the time when people were beginning to settle in the west. Omakayas and her family are constantly being forced to move to avoid the oncoming white settlers. In addition, they are in Minnesota so the harsh cold winters make their living difficult and bring death and sickness to the natives. The key locations in this story are their Birchbark house, the main town, Old Tallows house, and the forest which all contribute to the plot by creating different trials and conflicts for the characters in the story.

Cultural Context

A pouch that they stored their sacred tobacco in.

In “ The Birchbark House” by Louise Erdrich the cultural context is very specific because of their Native American background and religious beliefs. Their traditional beliefs of their island is that there are gods in the heavens that watch over them and they carry tobacco in pouches and rub it on certain objects or people for luck or for them to be watched over by the gods. They believe in an afterlife and this is especially important when Omakayas baby brother dies of small pox. She is incredibly sad, but after hearing that one of her other close friends has passed of the same disease she is comforted rather than destroyed to know that her baby brother has somebody to watch over him in the afterlife. She is certain that she will see him one day and that her whole family will be reunited in the heavens. They worship and have certain connotations for different animals. One example of this is the bear that is a very spiritual figure and is supposed to be incredibly wise, but also very dangerous.

Created By
Daxton Jensen

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